We’re constantly hearing about the skills shortage in the UK in key areas of STEM and that’s made all the more pertinent when it has been predicted that by 2022, 2.56 million job openings in engineering companies will need to be filled.
Along with names and organisations like Delcam, CEL Technologies and the STEM Ambassador scheme, Autodesk is on its own mission to help tackle the issue by hosting a series of events and training resources to show the next generation of would-be engineers and designers what a career in engineering could look like for them.
Last week, 24 local A Level students descended on Swansea College of Art, University of Wales Trinity St Davids to compete in the Design Now challenge, a three-day residential event designed to showcase the opportunities in STEM subjects at university and beyond.
However, this was no ordinary design project for a generic table or desk-tidy you might find repeated in the old school curriculum. This particular challenge was to design three vital forms of NASA equipment to support human exploration on Mars.
Imagine a bee colony-inspired habitat, snake-like bio-mimicry transportation device and a robot to support alien-territory exploration and you’ve pretty much got the gist of how our next generation of designers envision the future of space travel.
“If you have an 18 year old that’s just come out of A Level, they’ll design a house based on a beehive. It probably isn’t possible right now but you need that sort of crazy thinking to advance everything,” Mike Westlake UK and Ireland education manager at Autodesk commented.
At the event, students were trained up on Autodesk Fusion 360 software, the company’s latest hybrid, semi-cloud software for CAD design. They were encouraged to let their imaginations run wild and then 3D print the results.
“They’re all using smart phones already there’s no teaching them how to use an App," Mike added. "We gave them five to six hours training on our new software - most of them had never used CAD before and they were creating animations and rendering images. They’re so tech savvy already, its just making sure they use that not just for Snapchat and Facebook but to do worthy things in engineering.”
Transportation design for Mars exploration.
Whilst young people are growing up in a digital world with many of the necessary skills already in development, attitudes towards engineering remain a key issue. With many students opting for traditionally academic subjects in higher education and engineering being overshadowed by preconceptions of oil and grease, organisations and events like this are set up to turn that around.
“We tried to give them the best possible taste of what it would be like to be a designer or an engineer. I think still unfortunately engineering has got still that connotation that its some dirty trade where you end up covered in oil at the end of the day and that’s just not true,” Mike explained. “It’s making sure people are aware of what their career is going to be like, there would be much more interest in it if people realised that engineering is so massive you could be working on pretty much anything.”
Autodesk already offers a whole range of free products to the education community including software and learning resources that put these tools and new technologies into context for the classroom and real life applications. The idea is to encourage students and teachers to use new technology in a valuable and forward-thinking way.
“You always hear about the skills shortage but the skill isn’t the shortage it’s having them directed in the right way,” Mike explained. “Companies such as Autodesk have a responsibility to help train kids and teachers on how to use all of this technology because at the end of the day the engineering companies are going to want people to have the skills.”
Autodesk plans to roll out the competition to eight locations across Europe at universities or local companies to put students face-to-face with new technologies and come up with “weird, wacky and hopefully good ideas” that can be implemented in future applications.
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